School administrators have declared a code yellow alert at Washburn High School for Monday in advance of Monday’s planned student walkout in support of school Athletic Director Dan Pratt.
District spokeswoman Rachel Hicks said this weekend that the alert, which normally is declared in response to a perceived security threat at a school, is being imposed as a precaution.
Students are rallying in support of Pratt, and said that he has been told he is being fired. The district disclosed last week, in answer to a Star Tribune inquiry, that it is investigating Pratt for a “private personnel matter.”
The district is not required by state law to disclose more than that unless it decides to impose discipline on him. However, the issue is said by students and others involved with Washburn athletics to involve whether proper approvals were obtained by Pratt for a scoreboard that was to be installed when the school’s athletic field was renovated.
Principal Carol Markham-Cousins told parents of the code yellow alert in a voicemail Friday in which she said that several hundred students, alumni and community members may participate in a walkout or sit-in. She asserted that “many rumors and inaccuracies” have been posted on social media about the situation but did not respond to a Star Tribune offer made through Hicks to discuss them. Pratt also has not responded to attempts to contact him.
Students who leave the school Monday will not be allowed to return, and students who stay but miss a class period will be considered unexcused absences, Hicks said. In both cases, they won’t be able to participate in after-school activities, the district said. Washburn has two baseball games and a tennis match on its schedule Monday. However, plans for both a walkout and athletics could be affected by a soggy forecast.
The district issued a statement Sunday evneing that said in part: "decisions related to Mr. Pratt’s employment with MPS have been and continue to be made by the school district, not by Washburn Principal Markham-Cousins or other school staff members. The planned demonstration in support of Mr. Pratt will not have any bearing on the outcome(s) of the private personnel matter."
Article by: JASON GONZALEZ and STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune staff writers
Minneapolis Washburn athletic director Dan Pratt is under investigation for a "private personnel matter," the Minneapolis Public Schools confirmed this week.
Although details of the investigation are private at this stage, athletes and others in the school community say it involves whether proper procedures were followed in the purchase of a new scoreboard for the school’s athletic field when artificial turf was installed last year.
Others familiar with the matter say the scoreboard price exceeded $100,000 and an issue has been raised whether Pratt, who operates under dual school and athletic department supervision, obtained proper authorization for the purchase. Pratt’s defenders say that the cost of the scoreboard was not budgeted in the project that replaced the field surface.
The new field was funded with help from the Twins' ballpark sales tax funding and school board spending. That left Pratt to raise money to purchase the scoreboard, which reportedly has been purchased but has yet tobe installed.
The school's new turf football field was supposed to include the new scoreboard, but a neighbor complained to the Minneapolis City Council about placement slightly outside the fence surrounding the field.
Pratt, who was in Arizona this week coaching the school’s softball team, declined to comment on the investigation. Principal Carol Markham-Cousins couldn't be reached with the school on spring break this week.
Markham-Cousins several years ago assigned Pratt to teaching classes in addition to duties as athletic director for Washburn and adjacent Ramsey Middle School. Parents describe him as extremely dedicated to the school's program but also encouraging the non-athletic development of students.
"He's always been nothing but the best,’’ said Jamison Whiting, senior football player who has committed to play at Northern Iowa. “I've never seen him do anything [questionable]. I was surprised when I heard, but sensed it was coming."
Washburn's student-athletes said on Facebook that they plan a walkout early next week in support of Pratt.
First Dowling school, and now its principal, have been cited by his peers for excellence.
Principal Joe Rossow is in his fifth year at Dowling Urban Environmental School, where Rossow student taught and later taught for eight years.
He’s a hometown product, having attended Marcy Open School, where he also taught, and other city schools before graduating from South.
His citation for a divisional leadership award comes from the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association. The same organization last year cited Dowling as a school of excellence for the 2011-2012 school year.
Dowling is an unusual school. It was once known as Michael J. Dowling School for Crippled Children after both its original clientele and a former Speaker of the Minnesota House who became a triple amputee as a teen during an 1880 blizzard. It has a swimming pool that was used for therapeutic purposes, and a 20-acre site at 3900 W. River Pkwy that includes a greenhouse, an orchard and holds one of the nation’s oldest community gardens. It also enrolled in the Minnesota school forest program.
Rossow said he’s passionate about environmental education, and is working to beef up the school’s environmental curriculum. “My philosophy is to get some hands-on for the kids,” he said.
Although the school slightly exceeds state norms for proficiency in reading and math, science is where it really shines. Science proficiency as measured on the state test jumped from 35 percent in 2008 to 79 percent in 2012. That’s 27 points over the state average.
As a magnet school, Dowling draws its 505 students from across the southeastern quadrant of the city.
“It’s tough work, but it’s fun,” Rossow said. A school math night drew some 190 people; teachers taught math skills to students and parents learned math games that can be played at home.
Star Tribune readers learned Friday about the travails of Gary Vang, the Patrick Henry High School junior who was set upon by two young men at a bus stop on his way home from school. He’s been suffering from a symptoms of a concussion since the Jan. 28 attack.
Vang got some good news Friday morning. His mother, Kia Thao, got a call saying the 16-year-old has been admitted to Hopkins High School, starting March 22, when that school’s fourth quarter begins.
That’s good news to Thao and Vang because it means he no longer needs to use his student pass to ride the Metro Transit bus to Henry. Vang was attacked at a bus stop on his way home from school.
Hopkins will provide school bus service to his new school. The loss of school bus service in Minneapolis has been opposed by some Hmong parents whose students attend Henry because they fear unprovoked attacks, such as groping of female students on buses or the beating Vang sustained.
Vang is the third of Thao’s children to be accepted to Hopkins under the Choice is Yours program, which allows low-income Minneapolis students to bus to suburban schools. Each student lost to the suburbs means thousands of dollars less in state aid for Minneapolis.
Thao said she hopes that the switch will mean her son is safer. She said another son, who will switch to Hopkins in the fall, worries daily about whether he’ll need to ride the bus or be able to get a ride from a family member.
Thao said she was told by a contact in the Hopkins district that normally it doesn’t admit students during the school year. Hopkins district officials didn’t return Star Tribune calls on why they admitted Vang.
Community organizer Jay Clark said the Minneapolis district rushed the introduction of Metro Transit service for Henry students. “By not listening and by not asking people their opinions first they set themselves up for this,” he said of the transfer.
Minneapolis high schools may loosen their academic standards for competing in athletics and other inter-scholastic competitions.
The district officially has required a student to average at least a C in the previous quarter, but in practice has allowed students with a cumulative C average for their high school careers to compete.
Now a proposal before the school board would allow students who make at least a .1 improvement in their grade-point average in the previous term to compete, even if they are below a C or 2.0 average. The board will discuss the proposal Tuesday evening and is scheduled to vote on it on Dec. 18.
Nan Miller, who oversees policy revisions for the district, said she’s not aware from her research of another district in Minnesota that allows a growth standard for competing in such activities as athletics, debate and drama or music competitions.
The Minnesota State High School League, which oversees such competitions, merely sets a standard that a competing student be making progress toward graduation. Some set a grade-point standard while others require that a student not fail any classes, according to Dave Stead, the league’s executive director. But the league doesn’t keep track of those standards, he said.
The district’s current standard has been criticized by some coaches for denying a chance to compete some students whose studies are disrupted by factors such as homelessness, family conflict or babysitting siblings. Others say that athletics or other competitions keep students engaged in school.
“Student after study shows us how important student engagement in school activities is,” Miller said. The proposed standard may be found on the board's agenda.
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